Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Warm whiteness

As far as the eye can see (which isn't very far, because of the haze), the countryside is shrouded in a thin blanket of snow, which started to fall during the night... at the same moment that Bush, on the other side of the Atlantic, was making his pitiful State of the Union speech.

Sophia loves the soft slippery landscape. Long ago, to my amazement, she invented a form of skiing that might be described more accurately as dorsal sliding. She finds a slope, rolls over on her back, and uses her paws to start sliding downwards. Her genes have probably transmitted that technique from her remote ancestors in Labrador (eastern Canada). In those days, dogs that knew how to slide down the slopes on their backs could probably cover vaster hunting territories than those that didn't, enabling them to survive and proliferate. (I've already pointed out that I'm marked by my recent reading of this fabulous Dawkins book.)

Knowing that my neighbor Bob isn't at home, and that he won't be able to get up to his house for a day or so, I trudged up the track (dressed in my recently-purchased R M Williams coat and Akubra hat) with a dish of dog food for his gigantic Saint Bernard named Uranie. Now, when you think about it, that's the world upside-down, isn't it. A Saint Bernard dog with a small wooden barrel of brandy attached to its collar is supposed to wade through the snow to nourish stranded humans, not the other way round.

The presence of snow is marvelously soothing. Everything is quiet and soft and white, and you have the impression (which is more than a mere impression here at Gamone) of being out of contact with the bustling universe. Curiously, you don't feel cold at all. The whiteness makes you warm. I guess it's a bit like being in the womb... but I hasten to add that I have no recollections of that experience. I can understand people who are obsessed by snowscapes, who are thrilled by the idea of living in Arctic environments. On the other hand, unlike Sophia, I don't have the impression that, from a genetic viewpoint, I'm a cold-climate dweller. However I get sunburnt easily, so I'm not an equatorial being either. When I think about it, I'm more and more convinced that the prehistoric ancestors who provided me with my principal stock of genes probably lived in a nice mild climate—not too hot, not too cold, with a bit of rain from time to time—like that of South Grafton on the Clarence River in New South Wales. But I'm not sure that many paleobiologists would necessarily agree with that suggestion.

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